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The Beginner's Guide to Segmentation and Buyer Personas

by Jeffrey Russo


March 19, 2014 at 9:00 AM

New HubSpot Personas Tool

One of the toughest challenges that marketers face is understanding who is in your database, how your contacts are different, and then deciding how to best market to them. The best place to start is by grouping your contacts by similar characteristics, and then building a strategy for each group. 

Defining these different groups is the art of segmentation, and getting it right is no small feat. You need both a framework to do it properly, and the tools to actually put your segments to use. 

If you are just getting started with segmenting your marketing database (or taking a step back to rethink how you’ve been segmenting for a while), this post is for you.

We’ll take a look at a proven approach to using personas and lifecycle stages to build an effective segmentation strategy. Ready? Let's go. 

First, What Do We Mean by Segmentation?

As a term that gets tossed around a lot, you probably have an idea of what segmentation means: breaking your audience into groups of like people. But it’s good to take a step back and acknowledge all of the things that segmentation helps you do better. Your segments should be used to:

  • Define the topics and tone of the emails you send. (Example: if you segment your database based on industry, the way you talk to your leads in different industries can be significantly different.)

  • Plan your content strategy. (Example: if one valuable segment is under-represented in your existing database, you might create more blog content that appeals to that segment to attract more of those people to your website.)

  • Hone the messaging that appears on your website. (Example: Why not show the most appealing call-to-action to each particular segment.)

These are just a few examples that marketers should think about. There are a lot more ways that you can apply segmentation to drive better results.

The natural next question is, how should I actually be segmenting my audience? While there are a lot of right ways to segment, we’ll take a look at a proven method that is actually built right into HubSpot’s tools, which is segmenting by lifecycle stage and persona.

The First Dimension of Segmentation: Buyer Persona

What is buyer persona, exactly? Wikipedia sums it up well -

“Fictional characters created to represent the different buyer types within a targeted demographic, attitude and/or behavior set that might engage with a site, brand or product in a similar way.”

In short, buyer personas are groups that you define to represent the different buyers you commonly come across in your marketing and sales process. Your buyer persona might be defined by things like industry, company size, location, and other details. It’s up to you to figure out what is most important.

The Second Dimension of Segmentation: Lifecycle Stage

Lifecycle stage refers to where in the buying process an individual lead or contact currently is. It’s a great starting point for segmenting your audience, because how you communicate with different contacts should be largely dependent on their lifecycle stage. For example, the conversation you should have with a new lead who you know nothing about should be very different from the kind of conversation you might have with an established sales opportunity who is considering a purchase in the near future.

In HubSpot, lifecycle stage takes the form of a dropdown field on every contacts’ record. You or your sales team can set that dropdown to define each leads’ stage manually, or you can do it in an automated way with forms, the Workflows tool, or your CRM software.

If you are just getting started with segmentation and already have some clues about the lifecycle stages of your leads, using lifecycle stage to segment is a good way to get started. We’ll talk about how lifecycle stage fits into the larger picture in just a minute.

Combining Buyer Persona & Lifecycle Stage to Define Your Segments

At HubSpot, after trying many different approaches on our own and with our customers, we’ve found that the most effective way to segment is by looking at these two dimensions together. In other words, we define segments based on lifecycle stage and persona. This approach looks at who an individual lead or contact is (their goals, interests, demographics) and how they expect to interact with your organization (through lifecycle stage). 

Think about this for your own database. What are your groups? Jot it down. Now, let's discuss how to put this into practice. 

How to Put Segmentation into Practice with the New HubSpot Personas Tool

Ready for the good news? It’s now easy to build out personas in HubSpot and then use them to segment your database with the new Personas Tool.

The Personas Tool lives on your HubSpot dashboard under "Contacts." It helps you with every aspect of segmenting your database based on your personas -- from defining your personas, to building out persona profiles, to classifying your database by persona.


Once you’ve set up your personas and started to label each contact based on their persona, you’ll get a high-level look at the makeup of your database like the one you see above. You'll also be able to drill into a list of each segments' contacts to see the growth of your list over time.

Getting started with creating personas is easy. Click the "+ Add Persona" link at the top right-hand corner of the Contacts module on the dashboard. The tool will walk you through a simple process to help you define your first persona, which will be included in the finished profile like the example below. 


In one of the steps, you’ll create a field that you can use on your forms to allow contacts to identify their persona themselves. This step is particularly important, because it makes sure all new leads coming into your database will have their persona set automatically. (For existing contacts, you can assign a persona through an import or with the Workflows tool.)

Now, Start Putting Your Personas to Use

Once you’ve set up your personas and classified your leads, it’s easy to start putting your new segmentation plan into use. There is a lot you can do with your personas, including

  • Create workflows to nurture leads of a certain persona
  • Create Smart CTAs or Smart Content to target what certain personas and lifecycle stages see on your website
  • Write blog content that caters to different personas & lifecycle stages
  • Monitor list of contacts with certain personas & lifecycle stages on social media

You can also use your personas to set your greater marketing strategy. Once your personas are set up, you’ll be able to see the makeup of your entire contact database at a high level on your dashboard. Ask yourself, which persona buckets do most of my leads fall into? Which lifecycle stages? This information can be an easy way to prioritize your marketing efforts.

For example, if you’ve got a large number of early stage leads, you may want to focus your time on building nurturing workflows to move them along to becoming MQLs. If you have a lot of MQLs and very few earlier stage leads, maybe you need to spend time on blog content and an educational offer.

Try the New Personas Tool

Want to give the personas tool a try? You can find it the top of your dashboard in HubSpot. (If you haven’t created a persona yet, look for the “+ Add Persona” link.) Want to get a feel for how the tool works? Check out the video below.

Let us know when you start using this brand new tool! What did you think? Did you use some other segment criteria to build your persona? Also, have questions? Ask below!


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Written by Jeffrey Russo

Jeffrey Russo is a Product Marketing Manager at HubSpot, where he works to tell the story of inbound marketing and HubSpot’s products through content.

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